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Study Shows College Students are Distracted by Digital Devices in the Classroom

October 21, 2013

If you think college students are using their electronic devices to take notes during class, think again -- a recent survey showed that most students use their laptops, tablets and smartphones for non-academic activities while in class.

According to UNL Today, Bernard McCoy, associate professor of broadcasting at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, noticed that students' digital devices were creating challenges for him in the classroom.

"They've got their laptops open, but they're not always taking notes," explained McCoy in UNL Today. "Some might have two screens open -- Facebook and their notes."

McCoy's observation led him to survey 777 college students from six different universities in five states about their use of digital devices for non-academic activities during class. Inside Higher Ed reported that more than 90 percent of students admitted that they use their electronic devices in class for non-classroom related activities. Most of the culprits were undergraduate students and graduate students were less likely to use devices for non-class purposes. Undergrads reported using devices for non-academic reasons an average of 11 times a day, while grad students said they used their devices for such reasons 4 times a day.

The reasons for using digital devices during class time varied. Most (86 percent) said they were texting. Other non-academic activities included checking e-mail (68 percent), social networking (66 percent), surfing the web (38 percent) and playing games (8 percent).

Though the use of digital devices during class time may be a distraction to students -- as well as professors -- UNL Today noted that students saw some advantages to using them for non-academic reasons. For example, 70 percent said it helped them stay connected, 55 percent said it helped fight boredom and 49 percent said it helped them do related classwork. Still, using one's mobile device during class has its fair share of disadvantages -- 90 percent of students said it caused them to not pay attention, 80 percent said they have missed instruction altogether and 32 percent said they had been called out by their professor. More than a fourth reported that they had lost grade points because of their non-classroom digital activities.

The use of digital devices among college students has only increased through the years and it is not expected to slow down any time soon. As UNL Today pointed out, a 2012 study showed that two thirds of students age 18-29 own a smartphone, while a 2013 Experian Marketing Services study found that 18- to 24-year-olds send and receive almost 4,000 text message a month. McCoy noted that using digital devices has become so ingrained in today's college students that "they do it without even thinking about it."

Megan Conway, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln broadcasting and journalism student, agreed.

"I feel like the new generation has to know every move that everybody is making at every point in time," Conway said in the Lincoln Journal Star. "It becomes a habit. Sometimes I don't even think about it when I pick up my phone."

As a result, McCoy explained that he has had to re-think how he uses classroom time. For example, he limits the length of his lectures in order to give students periodic breaks. He also encourages students to use their smartphones for classroom-related activities, such as looking up information related to the lecture topic. Inside Higher Ed noted, however, that McCoy said it is still important to better understand why students feel the need to use their devices for non-academic purposes during class time.


Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin

Sources:

"Survey: Student attention wanders to digital devices," journalstar.com, October 18, 2013, Kevin Abourezk, http://journalstar.com/news/local/education/survey-student-attention-wanders-to-digital-devices/article_9c9b5bc3-8e49-509f-9768-59b7b98fbbe5.html

"Texting in Class," insidehighered.com, October 21, 2013, Scott Jaschik, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/10/21/study-documents-how-much-students-text-during-class

"UNL study shows students play with phones in class -- a lot," news.unl.edu, October 16, 2013, Leslie Reed, http://news.unl.edu/newsrooms/unltoday/article/unl-study-shows-students-play-with-phones-in-class-a-lot/

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